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Tuesday, November 25 2014 @ 08:15 AM ICT

The Big and Meaty Dual-Sport 650 Single-Cylinders

The BikesFirst things first; all the big and meaty single-cylinder 650cc dual-sport bikes suffer terribly because of their tires. They're made to get good mileage on the street and do not work in the dirt, not even a little bit. There are street-legal knobbies out there, but few tires will stand up to the torture of such heavy machinery. That's dual-sport life, learn to deal with it.

Aside from sneaker issues, the Honda is the most dirt-oriented motorcycle of the Japanese offering. It's the lightest, or at least the least-heavy, at near 148 kilogram without fuel. But what really sets it apart is the suspension. The Honda's fork and shock stand the test of time well. You can take the Honda XR650L as it is sold through desert whoops at a decent speed. No joke. The handling is kind of weird, but it doesn't do anything really nasty. It's just heavy. And weird, did we say that? The seat is really wide and goes straight up in front, the handlebars are back in your lap and you feel a little odd when seated, like you're in a big hole. That's the way motorcycles used to be – the Honda XR650L is like a time machine.

The Suzuki DR650ES surprised me. I have to admit that I have ignored the Suzuki DR650ES for the last, well, 19 years. I just assumed it was like riding a big 4x4 with handlebars. It's not. It feels much smaller and more compact than even the Honda XR650L. It has a modern feel with handlebar and seat positioning that approaches a current layout.

What keeps the Suzuki DR650ES from being more serious in the off-road is its suspension. It's soft, has limited travel and was never intended for anything approaching a fast pace in bumpy terrain. The fork is closer to the mark than the rear end, but they both brand the Suzuki DR650 as a slow-motion cruiser. We understand there's a way to lower the seat height about 3cm. That's a great feature for the DR650ES's target, which is obviously soft-core.

As for the Kawasaki KLR650, it's clearly no off-road motorcycle at all – it's just a dirty-road-going motorcycle. As Kawasaki has never been able to cleanup the exhaust emissions... When the KLR650 was redesigned a couple of years back, Kawasaki engineers were honest. They knew that virtually none of the KLR650 faithful were off-road riders, so the pretense was tossed out the window, along with the left-over Paris-Dakar look. The Kawasaki KLR650 is just enormous. Even if you stripped off the fairing and installed a smaller fuel-tank, it would still be huge. We have to confess at this point that we never weighed the Kawasaki KLR650 because it exceeded the capacity of the highly accurate but mobile personal weight scale. Kawasaki says it weighs 175 kilogram without fuel, and that's good enough for us.

Beyond the weight, it's clear that the suspension is too short and too soft, the seat is too pillowy. The rider position isn't bad, though, and there are times that you feel you could take the Kawasaki KLR650 down a trail... Don't do it. Steep downhills are the worst, and the big Kawasaki KLR650 has a mind of its own...

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